Sheffield United: Busting the play-off myth

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Admittedly, it was pretty terrible. Both in terms of overall performance and end result.

Sheffield United’s defeat at Yeovil Town on Tuesday evening spawned the inevitable prophecies of doom, angst and calls for bitter recrimination. Then, less than 12 hours later, I awoke to discover they were still fifth in the table, the sun was shining and the eight point gap separating them from seventh placed Rochdale remained intact.

Maybe, as Yours Truly is frequently told by those of a less measured persuasion, Nigel Clough’s team really is the worst thing since Cristiano Ronaldo’s pink polo shirt and tennis shorts combo. Perhaps United will fail to secure a top six place.

Yes, they have lost to some poor teams. They have beaten some damn good ones too.

The truth, no matter what the boorish, self-important and asinine blowhards on opposite sides of the argument insist, usually lies in between.

Realising Bramall Lane hadn’t imploded wasn’t the only shock I had on Wednesday morning when, assuming United would qualify, I embarked upon a little play-off research.

Scrolling through a list of the previous 10 winners in leagues One and Two, I was also stunned to discover that, contrary to popular opinion, momentum during the closing stages of the campaign is no guide to success in the end of season knockouts.

Ten different clubs have triumphed at Wembley or Old Trafford. Eighty per cent averaged less than two points per game during their six fixtures before the semi-final stage. The average of this average is 1.6 and the mode 1.8. United, even taking their Huish Park horror into account, have returned 1.7 from their previous half a dozen games.

Only Dagenham and Yeovil, who overcame United in 2013, boasted 2.0 or more.

What does seem important is winning the 46th fixture with 80 per cent of those to take this route out of the third tier recording maximum returns although, bizarrely, this drops to 20 in the fourth. The same number, again across the bottom two rungs of England’s professional pyramid, who lost and then went on to gain promotion.

And that, ladies, gentlemen and children, is the bitter/sweet beauty of football. It never ceases to amaze.

Twitter: @JamesShield1

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